Published On: Wed, Dec 18th, 2019

Government-owned banks under pressure

CBCS Central Bank Head Offce in St. Maarten

PHILIPSBURG/WILLEMSTAD — Following the recent bank run on the partly government-owned Girobank in Curaçao, some of the clients of the fully government-owned PSB bank also withdrew their deposits. Management of PSB bank, which has offices in both Curaçao and St. Maarten, was quick to respond that ‘the situation is stable’. Despite assurances to the contrary, public confidence in local banking has taken a nosedive. 

Clients of Girobank want to sue the bank, the newspaper Extra reported yesterday. The account holders also feel let down by the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS), which has maintained for years that under its supervision the Girobank would get out of trouble. Instead, on December 16th Girobank was placed under emergency rule by the Court of First Instance based on the national ordinance banking and credit sector. The Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS) requested the provision to protect deposit holders and creditors of the commercial bank after ‘developments that put its solvency under pressure’, it was stated in a press release.

In May this year the former director of the Girobank, 78-year-old Eric Garcia, was sentenced to four years in prison for misappropriating $11 million, forgery and money laundering. He was found guilty of embezzling millions in bankruptcy settlements. Garcia was involved as one of the curators. It is believed that he was acting on his own, without the knowledge and without the required permission of the examining magistrate.

More questionable things have happened at Girobank. Financial director of CBCS José Jardim, former Minister of Finance in Curaçao, confirms to the press that the crisis at the bank is the result of mismanagement. This is evidenced by the 2017 Girobank lawsuit against Ivan de Windt, a former Girobank supervisory board member, who did not repay a debt of half a million guilders to the bank.

De Windt, a certified accountant and a former senior partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, founded Elijah Fish Farm Bonaire NV in 2003. In that same year he registered the Elijah Fish Farm Holding Company NV on Curaçao, a company that provides financial services and trades in real estate; the company is still registered as active.

In 2009, a license was granted for the fish farm in Bonaire. Gilbert Martina, currently director of the new hospital in Curaçao, became a shareholder. According to the Bonairean journalist Trix van Bennekom the website of the fish farm at the time stated that lawyer Eric de Vries, partner at HBN Law in Curacao, also had shares in the company. Van Bennekom also reports in her blog from 2013 that De Windt is no stranger to Bonaire. “For years he was the shrewd personal financial advisor to UPB leader Ramoncito Booi. The UPB Executive Council wants the fish farm to come, which moreover promises to be an attraction for tourists. The zoning plan is even being modified so that ‘economic activity’ on the land that Elijah has purchased is possible.” And she writes: “Dutch officials were also enthusiastic about the promising project; the Ministry of Economic Affairs transferred €651,000 as a subsidy, the Girobank provided the partners a loan of 1.6 million guilders.”

The green building for the fish farm has been left abandoned since 2011. In 2013, the Girobank urged De Windt and partners to pay off a total of 3.5 million guilders, as shown by the court papers. No payments had been made to the bank since 2012. At the time De Windt was a board member at Girobank.  He served as member of the supervisory board from 2011 to 2013.

De Windt had personally guaranteed a loan of 500,000 guilders. In the court case, he is represented by Eric de Vries. The lawyer shows that De Windt’s wife should have co-signed for the loan. The Girobank had overlooked that, and as a result loses the court case. De Windt does not have to pay back the half million to the bank.

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Against better judgment, Girobank continued to invest in Dutch Antilles Express (DAE), the airline company of the Curaçao government that filed for bankruptcy in 2013. The bank also lost millions with Ctex data center, of which Girobank was both a shareholder and a lender. Antilliaans Dagblad revealed that the business plan for the project contained false and fabricated documents. In response Ctex CEO Anthony de Lima told the newspaper that he was not responsible for the “Fake Letters from Ctex.” The data center went bankrupt shortly after its establishment.
PSB Bank also provided Ctex with massive loans. The top management of the bank, consisting of Daniel Hodge and Guiveron Weert, received a formal warning last year by the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten. The CBCS detailed the consequences of risky loans granted in the past, including data center Ctex.

PSB Bank made the headlines again this year after the bank was considering accepting lottery boss Robbie dos Santos as a customer. After Maduro & Curiel’s Bank had received permission from the court to close the accounts of Robbie’s Lottery, the number office could no longer go anywhere for banking services, except to the bank of the Curaçao government. But after PSB-director Daniel Hodge expressed willingness to work with ‘riferos’, the bank announced that it had been decided not to take over the accounts for the lottery offices for the time being. Hodge indicated that the lottery business entails too many risks. Shortly after the announcement, the government terminated the contract of Hodge, without appointing a new director. Currently director Guiveron Weert also performs the duties of Hodge.

The management of PSB Bank emphasizes that the circumstances at the bank cannot be compared with those at Girobank. “Just like all other financial institutions, the bank is supervised by the CBCS and must be accountable for its business operations and internal systems.” PSB Bank has a license from the CBCS to act as a savings bank, offering services limited to savings accounts, loans and mortgages. In contrast to commercial banking companies, no statements are made about the total savings that the bank manages for clients. Unlike commercial banks, the bank of the government is not obliged to make their annual results and balance sheet public.